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Rebuilding Mallacoota’s abalone plant after the bushfires

WATCH THE VIDEO:  Work is underway to rebuild – and improve – Mallacoota’s iconic abalone processing plant, which was destroyed by bushfires in January.

The abalone co-operative has a long and proud history in Mallacoota, processing and exporting prized single-shell molluscs harvested off its pristine waters, since it was established by a group of forward-thinking abalone divers 50 years ago.

close up of the abalone shellsNow privately owned, the abalone processing plant is the largest employer in town with a turnover of around $15 million a year.

So when the factory burnt down during bushfires that raged through Mallacoota on New Year’s Eve, it was a devastating blow to the community.

“For a little town of under 1,000 people it’s a big player,” the chair of Mallacoota Abalone Ltd, Geoff Ellis, said. “Our factory burning down put about 100 jobs at stake and Mallacoota only has a workforce of about 450, so we need to get it up and firing again.”

While support from other Victorian processors has enabled divers to return to the water and the company to resume limited operations, it is essential to re-open the factory as soon as possible.

Regional Development Victoria has worked with the co-op to identify the necessary planning, fisheries and export approvals to refit its single remaining shed to be suitable to receive and handle abalone. The temporary factory must be up and running by April so they can process during the busy winter season.

photo of the local pelican “The temporary factory would mean the harvesters catch the abalone and we receive it, but then we shuck it, rumble it to take the roughage off it, and send the meat off to a contract canner to be canned,” Geoff said. “At that stage hopefully we’ll have about 70 per cent of our workforce back to do the shucking and the rumbling.”

Over the next 18 months, the company plans to build a new, state-of-the-art factory at a cost of around $5 million.

The facility may also include a high-end retail outlet, potentially offering cooking classes, shop, café and education centre.

“We want our workers back in here with a job, to pay their mortgages and to stay in town. This allows us to employ more people and diversify a bit. There is light at the end of the tunnel.”

Watch the video to find out more.